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Penn State Alum Tells Story Of Adoption, Family, & Growing Up In New Children’s Book

With an inspiring drive to share her story, Penn State alumna Iris Keen is taking the children’s book world by storm.

Keen graduated from Penn State in 2013 and has since spent time working and living all along the east coast. However, her most important journey started when she was just an infant.

Keen was born in Seoul, Korea, and adopted by her parents when she was 6 months old. Keen’s brother, Casey, was also adopted from Korea when he was the same age. But the sister-brother duo were the only adopted children each other knew during their childhoods.

“I was the only one, besides my brother, of course, growing up who I knew that was adopted. It was a diverse town. But in terms of adoption and things like that, it wasn’t something everyone was talking about,” Keen said. “I also think that back in the last 90s, adoption wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. I think now adoption is talked about a lot more in terms of people adopting, with celebrities and such, and it’s really just more common now.”

Despite her unique journey into the world, Keen described her childhood just as many others would: pure bliss. She credits her parents for giving her and her brother such an open, loving, and welcoming home.

“[Adoption] is really more common nowadays than when I was growing up. It was always something that my parents celebrated,” Keen said. “They always celebrated my ‘Gotcha Day.’ I remember in elementary school they would send me to school on my ‘Gotcha Day’ with an ‘It’s my Gotcha Day’ button on my outfit so everyone would know. I was always very proud of it, and I was always very open to answering questions from my friends and classmates about what it really meant to be adopted.”

To this day, Keen and her family still celebrate her and her brother’s respective adoption days. Because of how open and normalized adoption was in her family, it grew to make a very welcoming environment for Keen growing up. It translated to Keen wanting to continue sharing her story, work on normalizing adoption, and speak about it with an open and warm heart.

The one way Keen knew best to tell her story and speak openly about adoption was through writing.

“My passion for reading and writing really started at a super young age. When I got to Penn State, I knew that I wanted to be a writer, and I knew that I really liked journalism and English, so I majored in journalism and got my minor in English,” Keen said. “So I was really able to continue writing creative stories and short stories with that English minor. But with the journalism major, I was also able to tell other people’s stories, which I loved.”

After graduating, Keen spent a few years doing primarily business writing, but her adoption journey and love for storytelling were always still prevalent. She had always talked about wanting to write a novel, but her love for children’s books was something that sat a deep-rooted dream always in the back of her mind.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, Keen, like many others, had some extra time on her hands to finally sit down and start writing. And, just like that, “Adopting Posie,” a children’s book about adoption, family, and fitting in, was born.

Keen’s book tells the story of an adorable fox named Posie who is excited about her first day of school. She’s navigating all the ups and downs of being a new student while eventually realizing she doesn’t look like any of her classmates. Why? Because she’s adopted.

“Obviously, with COVID-19, everyone had a lot of time at their apartments and homes, and I figured why not use some of this downtime to really start looking into what this means and how I can write it,” Keen said. “The process was really intimidating to me and a little bit daunting, which is why I think I put it off for so long. But once I actually sat down and told myself I’m going to write it, to be honest with you, I wrote it in two days. It kind of just came out and was on the paper.”

Her first readers for “Adopting Posie” were her mom and elementary school librarian. Keen then sent the book out to a bit of a larger audience, including Kevin Haslam, who was Keen’s editor at her first post-college job. Haslam is also a Penn State graduate and ended up being Keen’s publisher for “Adopting Posie.”

Keen said she specifically wrote the book from the perspective of a young child in hopes of highlighting a different type of adoption story.

“I think a lot of the narratives I heard growing up were either from the point of view of the parents going through the adoption process or the point of the view of the children meeting their biological parents,” Keen said.

She wanted a story that she would’ve been able to relate to growing up, and the former ideas she elaborated on above were not personally relatable for her.

“I wanted a story that I could relate to. That is, you know, the story of how I grew up in a town or world where adoption wasn’t prevalent and people didn’t know about it, and you’re trying to maneuver this at such a young age,” Keen said. “You’re trying to figure this out and you know you’re different. But this story was one that just wasn’t ever told that I knew of, so I figured why not tell that one?”

Keen hopes her book encourages young readers to celebrate their differences and individual backgrounds. A children’s book like “Adopting Posie” could be the perfect way for young children to learn about what being different means and explore a topic like adoption that is so close to Keen’s heart.

“I think it’s really important to embrace differences. I think it’s also really important, regardless of age, to educate everyone of those differences and what makes everyone different, great, and unique,” Keen said. “Everyone has a different story, and everyone has a different background. But at the end of the day, you can relate, at some level, with everyone.”

For more information about “Adopting Posie,” head to its website.

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a senior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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